ALBERTA

Alberta Teachers Tentative Deal Calls For Wage Freeze For 3 Of 4 Years

03/15/2013 12:08 EDT | Updated 05/15/2013 05:12 EDT
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CALGARY - Premier Alison Redford says she got personally involved in talks to help her government reach a tentative contract with teachers.

The four-year deal comes after tense, often public negotiations between the province and the union representing 42,000 teachers. The Alberta Teachers' Association had turned down two other offers.

"We thought it was worth one more shot," Redford said Friday at a news conference with association president Carol Henderson and Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

"Carol and I had a conversation and we had the opportunity to bring some other people to the table, who were very smart and very committed to making this appearance happen.

"I am happy. I think it's wonderful that parents and kids and teachers will have certainty and stability. It's a much more constructive process."

Teachers have been without a deal since last August.

The proposal calls for wages to be frozen in the first three years. A two per cent increase would come in the fourth year, along with a lump-sum payment from the province.

There's also a promise to look into how much teachers are being asked to take on.

"I've heard from many teachers across the province that their concerns have never been about raises. It's been about workload and we want teachers to know that we are listening," said Johnson.

"Alberta Education will conduct an internal review, as well as a third-party study, to look at how teacher workloads can be adjusted and how we can improve the educational experience for Alberta's 600,000 students."

Henderson said workload and stability were the things that her members were most concerned about. She noted that the average work week for a teacher is 56 hours.

"I'm very pleased with taking this forward to teachers for those reasons. I'd like to thank the premier for making a big effort at the last of the 11th hour to get this done."

The new deal still has to be voted on by teachers. The province's 62 school boards will also have to approve it.

The Alberta School Boards Association was not at the announcement and did not return calls seeking comment.

The Calgary Board of Education said it would take some time to review the deal before commenting, but Edmonton Public Schools came out swinging. The board said the cost of the deal is not supported by funding from the province and would have a "significant impact" on students.

"We have no guarantee that the government's commitment to fund staff-cost increases will materialize," chairwoman Sarah Hoffman said in a statement. "Our board is worried that we have been put in a position that we cannot possibly hope to fund or fulfil the agreement we have been asked to support."

Johnson said he respects the frustration of the boards.

"But we've got to move forward with this," he said. "We'll take it forward to boards now and work with them locally on it."

He said the government will make sure the boards will have the necessary resources required.

"We absolutely will make the commitment that we will fund the increases and the increases are in Year 4. Some of the local negotiations may have implications on their budgets, but they're going to have to decide those things locally," Johnson said.

"I can't guarantee some of those may not add costs, and boards will have to deal with those as they see fit."

The Opposition Wildrose party said teachers should ratify the agreement.

"Obviously we're very happy to see this file moving forward and the veil of uncertainty being lifted from it. It's nice to see some stability in our education system," said Wildrose member Jeff Wilson.

"We're a little disappointed that this government again waits until the 11th hour to do the right thing. Teachers have been asking for a deal like this for years."

Redford said she hoped the agreement will bode well for ongoing negotiations with doctors.

"I have even more confidence today to say I'm more optimistic that we can come to agreements," she said.

"I think today is evidence of the fact that there are still lots of opportunities for movement and collaboration and we certainly want to make sure we're providing every opportunity for people to come to the table."

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